Seth Godin’s post today on “A Hierarchy of Failure Worth Having” crystallized one of my concerns with some recent startup practices. Godin outlines the following desirable hierarchy of failures:
FAIL OFTEN: Ideas that challenge the status quo. Proposals. Brainstorms. Concepts that open doors.
FAIL FREQUENTLY: Prototypes. Spreadsheets. Sample ads and copy.
FAIL OCCASIONALLY: Working mockups. Playtesting sessions. Board meetings.
FAIL RARELY: Interactions with small groups of actual users and customers.
FAIL NEVER: Keeping promises to your constituents.
I think he gets it exactly correct. And I think a number of entrepreneurs, in particular in the early market, get it almost exactly backward by
- Putting up a landing page that promises a capability or extra feature that doesn’t exist.
- Focusing more on a potential solution when talking with prospects–using them to prototype– instead of ensuring that they really understand the prospect’s perspective on the problem.
- Looking for funding before they look for customers, using investor interest as validation for their business concept.
Most organizations do precisely the opposite…They rarely take the pro-active steps necessary to fail quietly, and often, in private, in advance, when there’s still time to make things better.
Better to have a difficult conversation now than a failed customer interaction later.
The foundation of a successful business is the ability to make and meet commitments to customers, partners, employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders. If you inform them in advance, “we are going to try the following experiment” they may or may not take part, but they can offer informed consent. I see too many instances more recently where founders undervalue a relationship with a customer based on mutual trust and commitment.